From your dedicated home office, to your aspirational interiors, here's how to wow buyers in 2020.

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The days of baking bread to wow prospective buyers are gone. In 2020, people looking for their next home have very different expectations.

Properties today sell relatively fast, with the average UK home spending just 46 days on the market according to our data.

How can you make sure your home looks its best during viewings? We spoke to three experienced estate agents to get their advice on how to prepare homes for the market.

Here are their top tips:

1. Take things outside

With private gardens high up on homehunters’ list of priorities thanks to the recent lockdown, make sure yours is pulling its weight. Make the front and back gardens, or any communal spaces, as neat as a pin. 

Green lawns and nicely kept gardens full of flowers will make buyers want to stop for longer and imagine themselves using the space. Go to the garden centre and invest in some pots and blooms, use fertiliser to make the lawn look healthier. Garden furniture and clever planting can break up a large garden and indicate to buyers how they might use it at different times of the day.

“Since lockdown, buyers want gardens, gardens, gardens,” says Chris Husson-Martin, associate director of Hamptons International in Salisbury. “Having a freshly mown lawn at the back looks great, but don’t forget the front garden. If it’s unkempt people will think you don’t look after the house and it can put them off before they’ve even stepped inside.”

Remember that homehunters will be judging your property even as they walk up your street. 

“Bad first impressions can lose you a buyer. If you’re selling an apartment, particularly in an older block of flats, then get in touch with the management company about maintaining the outside space and communal areas,” explains James Forrester, managing director of Barrows and Forrester in Birmingham.

“Make sure you remove any rubbish around the entrance because as soon as people walk up to it, they are already judging the area.”

Richard Page, marketing director of Dexters in London, suggests making the garden as perfect as possible so it doesn’t let the inside of your home down. “You don’t want buyers to see weeds in your garden. You don’t want buyers to even think there might be weeds in the garden,” he says.

2. Show off home office potential

The Covid-19 pandemic means that more of us are considering working from home more often over the longer term. While the kitchen table might have been ok during lockdown, a home office is a must-have for many homehunters in 2020. 

Even if you are selling an open-plan flat with no obvious office space, creating a work area with a desk that can be pulled down from the wall will help prospective buyers imagine themselves doing their best work in the space.

“Put a laptop in position somewhere,” says Forrester. “But make sure there’s a plug socket because people will notice if there isn’t.”

Good connectivity is a top priority for homemovers, too. 

“We’ve got a lot of buyers moving out to the country from London and the first question they ask is about WIFI speed and broadband,” says Husson-Martin. “If you can demonstrate that your home gets decent speeds then it’s a key selling point.”

Page says: “The two things buyers want these days are space to work from home and a garden, so a dedicated office space is a must. It could even be a hallway. Shut all the hall doors, have a drop leaf table and away you go. Just show it can be done.”

3. Make the decor aspirational

Viewers will be looking at your house imagining themselves living there. If you update the decor before selling, choose a neutral palette to lighten and brighten the walls, making everything look crisp and clean. 

Play to your property’s strengths, choosing appropriate colours and styles and brightening up dark corners and hallways with lighter shades. This year’s Pantone colour is a classic dusky blue.

If you have an open-plan home then create zoned areas to show functionality, such as a dining area, desk space or a kid’s play area. But leave plenty of room for flow as buyers look around and imagine their own furniture in position. 

“You want a buyer’s first impression to be that it is clean, light and makes them want to stay,” says Page. “Try and get your property up to show home standards.”

4. Get the pot plants in position

Nothing says 2020 quite like an impressive pot plant collection. Little touches that will set dress your home, like a few soft throws, snazzy cushions, plants and the odd piece of statement furniture can deliver wow factor.

Look at Instagram and Pinterest for visual inspiration. A mixture of comfort, practicality and style in the form of a mid-century modern sideboard, a sumptuous sofa and a few well-placed touches in an otherwise neutral interior can really show off the space and demonstrate how others might live in it.

“People do see through set dressing to an extent but if you get the balance right it can help,” says Page. “If it’s a sunny day then put a couple of chairs out on the terrace so buyers can imagine themselves having coffee there in the mornings.”

It can be hard to make a home look on-trend if it’s filled with toys and the other detritus of family life. But Forrester says you can still make it look its best. “It’s the little touches that mount up rather than buying fancy furniture,” he says. “Put the toys that look right out, but tidy the rest away. Make it look liveable but beautiful.”

Another joy of staging your home for sale is you get to take all the fantastic pieces you invested in with you when you leave. They will look great in your new place!

5. Sniff out potential problems

There’s no polite way of saying this, but if your house smells funny you probably have no idea because you’re used to it. 

If you have pets, the carpets have seen better days or those cooking smells hang around, you’d better improve the olfactory impact of walking through your door.

“You will be used to the smell but anyone entering the property won’t be,” says Forrester. “My top tip is to get your carpets cleaned. The difference in how a carpet looks once you’ve had it professionally cleaned as well as how it smells really makes it worth the £60 or so it’ll cost.”

Baking bread and brewing coffee might once have been seen as tricks of the trade for selling homes, but Page says buyers are wise to this and they’re best avoided. However, getting fresh air in, using air fresheners or lighting candles can still help.

“Open all the windows before a viewing,” says Husson-Martin. “I work out in the country and a lot of people have dogs or horses. If you’re not a horsey person then the smell of horse can actually be quite off-putting. Letting fresh air in and lighting a candle can really help.

6. Ship your pets out

Puppies and kittens might be in high demand as a result of lockdown. But no matter how delightful you find your cat, dog or rare reptile, not everyone is a pet lover. 

Some buyers might be allergic or terrified of your four-legged friend. And Rover might take issue with strangers tramping through his house and behave territorially.

It’s best for everyone if you give your pet a break elsewhere while you get on with selling your home.  

“Always get them out of the house before viewings. You never know if your buyers like pets or not and it’s not worth the risk,” says Forrester.

7. Lighten up

Literally show your property in the best light by ensuring the windows are clean, light fittings are all functioning and the right wattage of bulbs are in place in all the rooms. 

You might even go so far as to schedule viewings for times of the day that best show your home off. 

“Light is really, really important. We sell a lot of character properties including thatched cottages and they can have very small windows,” says Husson-Martin. “Make your house as light as you possibly can. If you’ve got a north-facing living room, don’t do any viewings when it’s really gloomy.”

Turning all the artificial lights on doesn’t always help, either. “People have got wise to the fact that estate agents go into houses and turn all the lights on. Sometimes they ask us to turn them off,” says Husson-Martin. 

8. Do your repairs

If there are issues that need sorting out, get them crossed off your list well before you put your home on the market. 

Small things like bad wear and tear, broken windows, peeling paintwork and other cosmetic niggles can be fixed relatively quickly and easily. Try and look dispassionately at your home to identify what needs doing.

“As soon as a buyer sees a crack in the plaster they will think about subsidence and structural issues,” says Husson-Martin. “But with a lot of houses, particularly modern houses, the structure will be settling and drying out and a small crack doesn’t indicate a structural problem. If you fill that crack in properly with filler and redecorate then problem-solved.”

If there are any major issues with your home (and your budget can stretch to fixing them) then it is well worth getting them sorted in advance of viewing day. Homehunters will pick up on the fact that a home needs TLC even if they are unsure what exactly needs doing, and this might affect how many offers arrive.

“It might sound counterintuitive but if there are big problems with your property you might need to spend a bit of money to get your asking price,” says Forrester. “It’s best to be honest and upfront about any work that needs to be done if you haven’t fixed major problems, but my advice would be to fix anything major before you sell.”

Structural problems, subsidence, damp and other issues will be exposed by a homebuyers’ survey once you have accepted an offer. This is sometimes an opportunity for buyers to negotiate the price down to reflect the cost of work.

“If someone comes in and smells damp then it immediately puts them in the wrong frame of mind, certainly not a buying frame of mind,” says Page. “Get it sorted pronto, and well before you start getting viewers in.”

If you’re not sure what sort of problems might crop up, then investing in your own structural survey before selling could give you valuable insight and save you from the headache of buyers dropping out of the sale or pushing the price down.

9. Get the bicycle out of the hallway 

Declutter to make your home appear as spacious as possible. 

This might mean investing in a temporary storage unit for any big, unnecessary pieces of furniture or bicycles that might make the hallway difficult to navigate.

“You want your rooms to look as big as they possibly can,” says Husson-Martin. “So get rid of as much clutter as possible. Clear it all out.”

But you should also utilise existing storage to the max as homehunters may open cupboard doors to see how you manage the space. 

“Things should be stored where you might expect to find them and if they won’t fit then move as much furniture and clutter as possible out temporarily,” says Forrester.

10. Get your scrubbing brushes out

We know everyone knows this already, but cleanliness really is important when it comes to first impressions. 

If you want to clean up financially by achieving your asking price, then don your marigolds to get your home looking sparkling.

Remove distracting mess, bleach the bathroom, shine the windows, wipe down the skirting boards and make sure that even the insides of the cupboards are well kept. 

Look forensically at your home and try to see the ingrained grime you might have stopped noticing. If it’s really bad and won’t wipe off, consider a new lick of paint.  

“Noone wants to come in and see dishes in the sink, beds unmade and clothes strewn everywhere,” says Forrester. “People are looking to see how they would live in your home. If it’s too clean and empty then they can’t see it. Likewise, if it’s too messy and cluttered they can’t see it. Find that nice lived-in but loved balance.”

Oh and don’t forget the outside space when it comes to cleaning. “Get the driveway jet washed,” says Forrester. “And scrub off any moss or dirt on the external brickwork.”

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